NFL Picks for the Divisional Round

New Orleans Saints (12-5) at Seattle Seahawks (13-3)
The Saints meet the Seahawks in a rematch of a couple of memorable games, at least for the Seahawks.  One was a Wild Card matchup in 2011 in which the Seahawks were big underdogs at home, but won 41-36, in a game remembered for Marshawn Lynch’s long touchdown run in which he broke over 10 tackles on the way to the end zone.  The other was a 34-7 blowout for the Seahawks in Seattle on December 2.  That memory is still fresh in a lot of minds leading up to this game.  This is easily the best Seahawks team since the one that appeared in Super Bowl XL, and even though their 14-game home winning streak was snapped 3 weeks ago, they are still extremely tough to beat at home.  In addition, the Saints are, even with last week’s win road win in Philadelphia, they are still 4-5 on the road this year.  Even that road win against the Eagles won’t change my mind, as there’s a big difference in playing the Eagles and playing the Seahawks, no matter the location, and with the game in Seattle, I don’t hardly give the Saints a chance.  Out of 13 NFL experts on ESPN.com, only 1 picked the Saints to win this game, the spread favors the Seahawks by 8.
Seahawks 34, Saints 26.

Indianapolis Colts (12-5) at New England Patriots (12-4)
The Patriots are a touchdown favorite at home in a matchup of perhaps the two most successful franchises of the last 15 years.  The Colts have appeared in the playoffs for 12 of the last 15 years, while the Patriots have appeared in 11 of the last 15 postseasons.  This is the 4th time these teams have met in the playoffs, with the Patriots having won 2 out of 3.  All of those matchups were between 2004 and 2007, and featured the Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning rivalry.  Now it’s Brady vs. Andrew Luck, and in their only previous meeting, in November 2012, New England won 59-24.  However, the Colts have come a long way since then.  Some people have remarked how the Patriots were guaranteed to win because it’s “Tom Brady in the playoffs,”  but those people are forgetting that the Patriots haven’t won a Super Bowl in 9 years (although they do have 2 AFC titles since).  The Colts are riding a ton of momentum after coming back from being down 38-10 to the Chiefs to win 45-44.  And this Colts team, and Andrew Luck in particular, will likely be among the NFL’s elite for the next decade.  The future starts now.  While this would be an upset, many people acknowledge this may be the most even matchup, as 5 ESPN analysts out of 13 picked the Colts in this game, and only 4 picked the other 3 underdogs combined.
Colts 31, Patriots 27.

San Francisco 49ers (13-4) at Carolina Panthers (12-4)
Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton were roommates at the 2011 NFL Combine, and now in their 3rd season in the league, they meet for the right to go to the NFC Championship Game.  The Panthers are in the playoffs for the first time in 5 seasons, and their crowd will be hungry to erase the memory of their 33-13 loss to the Cardinals in January 2009.  It has, in fact, been 8 years since the Panthers won a playoff game.  However, the Panthers are 2-point home underdogs because of who they are playing.  The 49ers are the defending NFC champions, and are trying to reach the NFC Championship Game for the 3rd straight year.  They are coming off a road win a week ago in frigid Green Bay, and are gunning for another in Charlotte.  I mentioned the relationship between Kaepernick and Newton; Kaepernick has playoff experience from last year’s run, while this is Newton’s first ever playoff start.  The Panthers are 7-1 at home, with the only loss coming to the top-seeded Seahawks, although the 49ers are 7-2 on the road (counting last week’s win).  The 49ers are undefeated since a Week 11 loss to the Saints, and are undefeated since the return of Michael Crabtree, who had been out injured.  The week before the Saints loss, however, they lost to the Panthers at home, 10-9.  If they want to beat the Panthers now, it will have to come on the road.  While this game has the closest spread, only 2 experts on ESPN are calling for the upset.  I beg to differ, based on the fact the Panthers have beaten this 49ers team in San Francisco, and the fact this Panthers team seems primed and ready to make some noise.  One thing is almost certain:  this matchup between the 2nd and 3rd ranked defenses in the NFL should produce a low-scoring defensive struggle.
Panthers 13, 49ers 10.

San Diego Chargers (10-7) at Denver Broncos (13-3) (-9)
In the largest spread of the weekend, the Broncos are 9-point home favorites.  However, I have reason to believe this could be the most competitive game of the 4.  First of all, 6 seeds have won 6 out of their last 8 games against 1 seeds in the playoffs, a stat that would favor the Chargers.  Also favoring the Chargers is the fact they won, 27-20, in Denver on December 12, exactly one month before this playoff contest.  In their other meeting back on November 10, however, the Broncos won in San Diego, 28-20.  Not only did they split the two games, but the combined scores are 48 for the Broncos and 47 for the Chargers.  I’d say that’s pretty even.  And while the Broncos are 13-3, they are 1-3 against the remaining AFC playoff teams, and was sacked as many times in those 4 games as he was in the other 12 games of the season.  All that being said, in my midseason report, I picked the Broncos to win the AFC, and at the start of the playoffs, although I didn’t write a post making official Super Bowl picks, when friends asked me my pick I said I would stick with the Broncos (and the Seahawks in the NFC), because I hadn’t seen enough out of any other team to change my mind.  So, I’ll continue to stick with it, at least for one more week, even though the Chargers have won 5 straight and are very hard to pick against.  While the Broncos did lose to the Chargers a month ago at home, they are still 7-1 in Denver.  And besides, how wise would it be for me to pick against one of the greatest quarterbacks the game has ever seen?  Interestingly, only 1 of the aforementioned 13 panelists on ESPN picked the Chargers; I certainly think the Chargers should get more respect, and I almost picked them myself.
Broncos 31, Chargers 28.

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NFL Picks for Wild Card Weekend

The best time of year, at least in football, started with bowl games over the last 2 weeks.  Now it continues with the NFL Playoffs.  While some may brush off the Wild Card matchups as irrelevant, since the top 2 in each conference don’t play until next week, the last 3 Super Bowl champions have played on Wild Card weekend, meaning that the 4 teams who advance to next week’s divisional round may have a good shot to win it all.

Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) at Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
The Colts are a 2-point home favorite after winning the AFC South, and as the 4 seed host the Chiefs, who are the 5 seed after falling short of the AFC West title.  The Chiefs are 0-7 in the playoffs since their last playoff win in January 1994, including 3 losses to the Colts.  They started this season at 9-0, but have lost 5 of the last 7, although each of those 5 losses was to a playoff team (then again, one of those losses, this past Sunday against the Chargers, was a bit controversial after a referee no-call).  The Colts have a playoff losing streak of their own, but it is only 3 games, and only dates back to their last Super Bowl trip in 2010.  The Colts are 1 of 3 teams since 2003 with 3 wins over 12-win teams.  Out of the first 2, the 2011 Ravens reached the AFC Championship, and the 2003 Patriots beat the Panthers in the Super Bowl.  These teams are pretty statistically even, but a head-to-head matchup just 2 weeks ago shows otherwise.  The Colts won 23-7, in Kansas City.  This time the Colts have a home-field advantage to help them even more.
Colts 28, Chiefs 13.

New Orleans Saints (11-5) at Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)
The Eagles are 3-point home favorites coming off a big road win in Dallas for the NFC East division title, leading into a rematch of a 27-24 Saints win in the 2007 NFC Divisional round.  The Eagles claimed the 3 seed with that division title, and will host the Saints, who captured the 6 seed with their win over the Buccaneers on Sunday.  This game is certainly meaningful, since it is a Wild Card playoff game, but it is even more meaningful in suburban Austin, TX, at Westlake High School.  Drew Brees of the Saints and Nick Foles of the Eagles, both starting QBs in this game, went to the school.  Since there is a 10-year age difference, they actually didn’t ever meet each other until both had made it to the big leagues, but this high school connection has football fans everywhere intrigued.  According to the Elias Sports Bureau, this is actually the 2nd time a playoff matchup has included QBs from the same high school, after Terry Bradshaw of the Steelers and Joe Ferguson of the Bills both graduated from Woodlawn High School in Shreveport, LA, before meeting in the 1974 AFC Divisional Round.  As for these 2 teams (it is a team sport, after all), the Eagles have won 7 out of 8 on their way to the division title, including 4 straight at home.  The high-powered offensive attack that first year coach Chip Kelly brought from the University of Oregon is working in the pros, as the Eagles are ranked 1st in the league in rushing and 9th in passing.  Foles didn’t start the year as the starting QB, but has stepped in nicely, throwing 27 TDs and only 2 interceptions on the year, and tying the NFL record with 7 TDs in a single game on November 3.  In addition to the passing attack, the Eagles have the league’s leading rusher in LeSean McCoy.  The Saints were undefeated at home this year, but that doesn’t mean anything this weekend in Philadelphia.  The fact they are 3-5 away from the Superdome, and have lost 3 in a row on the road and 4 out of 5, certainly does mean something.  Not only are their win-loss numbers alarming, but so are the differences in Brees’ numbers.  Out of his 39 TD passes, 27 are at home, with only 12 on the road.  Out of 12 interceptions, only 3 were at home, while the other 9 were on the road.  This game will also be in cold weather, with a high around 40 and a forecast for rain, which should benefit the Eagles even more.
Eagles 34, Saints 24.

San Diego Chargers (9-7) at Cincinnati Bengals (11-5)
The Bengals are 7-point home favorites in this game between the 3 and 6 seeds in the AFC.  The Bengals, as the higher seed, are hosting the Chargers, and the fact that the Bengals have this game at home is huge for their chances.  First of all, they are undefeated at home and just 3-5 on the road so far this season.  They will also have a very hungry fan base behind them, as they haven’t won a playoff game since 1991, losing 5 straight.  Perhaps it’s a good thing they aren’t playing the Houston Texans, as they are the team that eliminated the Bengals the last 2 seasons.  Cincinnati has won 5 out of 6, and the 2 losses right before that streak were both in overtime.  They have a 4-0 regular season record against the 12 playoff teams, including a 17-10 win over these Chargers on December 1, in San Diego.  However, this isn’t the same Chargers team as even the one that lost that game just 5 weeks ago.  After a first half that included losses to the Texans, Titans, Raiders, and Redskins, their stretch run that included a 5-1 stretch included 2 wins over the Chiefs and 1 over the Broncos.  They also had earlier wins over the Colts and Eagles.  With both teams coming in on such hot streaks, this should be one of the best-played games of the weekend, and one team may play well but not be rewarded with a win.  Weather in the mid-30s with a chance of a rain/snow mix should favor the Bengals, and if matchup history means anything, the Bengals have won 3 straight in the series, and won their only playoff meeting, 27-7, in the 1982 AFC Championship.|
Bengals 24, Chargers 20.

San Francisco 49ers (12-4) at Green Bay Packers (8-7-1)
The Packers are a 3-point underdogs at home against the defending NFC Champions, the 49ers, in a rematch of a meeting in the NFC Divisional Round last year which the 49ers won 45-31 at Candlestick.  The Niners are, in fact, the highest-finishing team from last years playoffs in this year’s tournament, since the Ravens, who won last year’s Super Bowl, missed the playoffs with their loss to the Bengals on Sunday.  For what it’s worth, the 49ers beat the Packers 34-28 in Week 1, although it’s really not worth much since that was back on September 8, almost 4 months ago.  The 49ers, in fact, followed up that win with consecutive losses, even though they were to the Seahawks and Colts, a pair of division champions, before going 11-2 the rest of the way, including a 6 game winning streak to end the regular season.  One negative about the 49ers is they are 2-4 against this year’s playoff teams, with both of the wins coming at home.  They are 6-2 on the road, which is a pretty good mark, especially considering the 2 losses are at Seattle and New Orleans, 2 of the toughest places in the league to play as a visitor.  Then again, Green Bay is a tough atmosphere as well, particularly in the playoffs, as the Packers are 16-4 all-time in Lambeau Field playoff games.  While the Packers are 8-7-1 on the year, they are 6-3 with Aaron Rodgers under center, as he missed 7 games with a broken collarbone, and during that time they were 2-4-1.  While the Packers are 0-3 against playoff participants, 2 of the losses were on the road and the 1 at home was during Rodgers’ injury sabbatical.  It is Rodgers who is responsible for the Packers even being here, after his 48-yard TD pass to Randall Cobb on 4th and 8 in the final minute last week against the Bears in the de facto NFC North title game.  A final advantage the home-standing Packers have will be the weather, like the other 2 outdoor playoff games that also happen to be in the northern part of the country.  Unlike the games in Philadelphia and Cincinnati, this game will see temperatures below zero, with Sunday’s high forecast as -3, with wind chills of -20 to -30, and there is also a chance of snow.  Green Bay leads the series 6-3 since 2001, and has won 4 out of 6 playoff meetings
Packers 21, 49ers 14.

NFL Picks for Week 16

The new NFL logo went into use at the 2008 draft.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Game of the Week:  New Orleans Saints (10-4) at Carolina Panthers (10-4)
The Panthers are 3-point favorites at home in a battle that will likely be for the NFC South division title.  All the winner will have to do will be to win again next week, and both teams play opponents in Week 17 that are currently 4-10.  The Saints are coming off an embarrassing road loss against the Rams a week ago, and have lost 3 out of their last 4 road contests.  The Panthers have only lost once at home all year, and that was back in Week 1 against the 12-2 Seattle Seahawks.  That game may have been the Panthers best showing defensively, allowing just 12 points against Russell Wilson and company.  The Panthers have additionally won 9 out of 10 overall, although the one loss was a blowout to these Saints two weeks ago in New Orleans.  But the Saints aren’t the same team on the road as they are in the Superdome, and the Panthers should want ultimate payback, as winning would let them control their destiny to win the division and get a playoff bye.
Panthers 28, Saints 24.

Big Game Guarantee:  New England Patriots (10-4) at Baltimore Ravens (8-6)
The Ravens are 2-point home favorites, which means the oddsmakers see these teams as pretty even.  The Patriots are in good position heading towards the playoffs, although they haven’t clinched their division just yet, and are battling the Broncos, Bengals, and Chiefs to see who will get a playoff bye.  Those 4 losses, however, have come in their last 5 road games, and they will head into a tough environment this week in Baltimore.  The Ravens have won 4 straight, and have only lost once at home all year, to the Packers back when they still had Aaron Rodgers.  That loss was also part of a 3-5 start for the defending Super Bowl champions.  Since, they are 5-1, including an 18-16 win over Detroit, without scoring a touchdown in a defensive battle on Monday night.  Count on a close game, as the Ravens have played 9 games decided by 3 points or less, and the Patriots have played 9 games decided by 4 points or less.
Ravens 23, Patriots 20.

Another Big Game Guarantee:  Atlanta Falcons (4-10) at San Francisco 49ers (10-4)
The 49ers are favored by 14 in their final regular season game at Candlestick Park.  It will likely be the final game, as it is unlikely the 49ers will be able to host a playoff game, based on where they currently sit in the standings.  The game itself is almost an afterthought, as the Falcons, who were preseason playoff contenders, have struggled to a 4-10 record, and have not beaten a team with a winning record all season.  The 49ers have won 4 straight, including a win over the NFC-leading Seahawks two weeks ago, coming into this Monday Night Football contest.  The magnitude of this game is not as much in the game itself as it is in the farewell of one of the game’s great venues, based on both its unique design and its unequaled history.
49ers 30, Falcons 17.

Upset of the Week:  Pittsburgh Steelers (6-8) at Green Bay Packers (7-6-1)
Green Bay hosts this pivotal matchup that will affect the playoff race in both the AFC and the NFC, and is favored by 2.  The Packers, however, will play their 7th straight game without QB Aaron Rodgers, and are 1-4-1 in the first 6 games without him.  That hurts even more when considering the fact Rodgers is 2-0 with 687 yards, 6 TD, and no interceptions in his career against Pittsburgh, including his MVP performance in Super Bowl XLV.  The Steelers seemed to come alive last week against Cincinnati, upsetting the division-leading Bengals by 10 to keep their slim playoff chances alive.  While the Steelers need a lot of help to make the playoffs, the first thing that needs to happen is for them to win their final 2 games.  The Packers are in a similar situation, leaving this as almost an elimination game in the playoff pursuit.  The difference in these two teams is that one has their elite quarterback and the other does not.
Steelers 24, Packers 20.

Another Upset of the Week:  Chicago Bears (8-6) at Philadelphia Eagles (8-6)
The Eagles are 3-point home favorites in this week’s edition of Sunday Night Football, in a game between two teams both trying to win their respective divisions and make the playoffs in their first season under a new head coach.  The Bears, under coach Mark Trestman,  come into the game having won back-to-back games for just the second time all year, and just got QB Jay Cutler back from injury last week against Cleveland.  They control the NFC North, for now, and can clinch with 2 wins these final 2 weeks of the season (they could actually clinch Sunday, but need to win and have some help from the Steelers and the Giants, who play the Packers and Lions).  The Eagles are in a similar position, with this game and one against the Cowboys next week remaining in their quest to make the playoffs under Chip Kelly.  They are coming off an unexpected loss to the Vikings last week, and this game actually won’t mean a thing if the Cowboys beat the Redskins in the afternoon (because whether the Eagles win or lose, the game with Dallas next week would still be for the division title).  The Bears come in on more of a positive note, and in all likelihood will have more riding on this game.
Bears 37, Eagles 28.

College Football Picks for Week 15

Game of the Week:  #3 Auburn (11-1) vs #5 Missouri (11-1)
Auburn plays Missouri in the battle of the Tigers in the SEC Championship Game.  Auburn is favored by 2, coming off of two consecutive miracle wins in the closing seconds against Georgia and Alabama.  They now sit 3rd in the BCS rankings, and if they win, and either Florida State or Ohio State lose, they control their own destiny to make the national title game.  Even if the Seminoles and Buckeyes win their respective games, I believe there is a chance Auburn could jump Ohio State with a win over Missouri.  Missouri has won 4 straight, including their division clincher against Texas A&M last week, since their double overtime loss to South Carolina.  They have won consecutive games against ranked opponents since the return of QB James Franklin.  These two teams were a combined 2-14 in the SEC last year, including Auburn’s 0-8 record, and have turned it around to be 14-2 this year, leading to what may be the most unlikely SEC Championship Game ever.  While Missouri’s season has been special, Auburn is having a season of destiny, and I sure wouldn’t want to be a team having to play them right now.  They will have another exceptional game we will look at as a classic (like their last two games) and win their 2nd conference title in 4 seasons.
Auburn 35, Missouri 28.

Big Game Guarantee:  #7 Stanford (10-2) at #11 Arizona State (10-2)
Arizona State is a 3-point home favorite in the Pac-12 Championship Game, the only major conference title game to be played on a campus site instead of at a neutral site.  That will add a level of atmosphere that will favor the Sun Devils, who come in having won 7 straight games since early season losses to Notre Dame and this Stanford team.  That 42-28 win for Stanford, however, was in Palo Alto, where Stanford has won 16 straight games.  The Sun Devils have an 8-game home winning streak of their own, and have also won close games in tough environments at Utah and UCLA during their drive to the Pac-12 South division title.  Stanford has lost 2 out of 3 on the road to unranked opponents Utah and USC.  Stanford is trying to reach their 4th straight BCS bowl game, while Arizona State is trying to reach their first since 1996, when Jake Plummer was the Sun Devils’ QB.  Home field advantage is the determining factor, as the game should be close, late.  I believe Stanford would win if these teams played in Palo Alto, but this game is in the desert.
Arizona State 28, Stanford 24.

Another Big Game Guarantee:  #17 Oklahoma (9-2) at #6 Oklahoma State (10-1)
“Bedlam” will ensue in Stillwater, where Oklahoma State is a 10-point home favorite.  The Cowboys are a win away from their 2nd BCS bowl bid in 3 years, but are hosting a rival they’ve lost to 9 out of the last 10 years.  In fact, Oklahoma State is trying to win back-to-back games against Oklahoma at home for the first time since 1930 and 1932, when they were known as Oklahoma A&M.  The Cowboys are 10-1, and 7-1 in Big 12 play, with the only loss coming to West Virginia back in September.  Oklahoma is 9-2, with a 6-2 Big 12 record, with their only losses to the two teams currently tied with Oklahoma State for the conference lead, Texas and Baylor, both of whom lost to Oklahoma State.  Should Oklahoma pull an upset, Texas and Baylor would be playing for the conference title (see below), and Oklahoma would tie for 2nd with Oklahoma State and the Baylor-Texas loser.  As mentioned, the Cowboys beat both teams that have beaten the Sooners, and this is a different Cowboys team than the one that lost to West Virginia.  They would be in national championship contention without that loss (they would probably be #2), and they have played as well as anyone over the last half of the season.
Oklahoma State 49, Oklahoma 35.

Another Big Game Guarantee:  #25 Texas (8-3) at #9 Baylor (10-1)
Baylor is a 15-point home favorite in a game that could decide the Big 12 title.  That would only be the case, however, if Oklahoma State loses to Oklahoma, but that game will be at 12:00 ET and this one will be at 3:30 ET so the teams will know what is on the line.  This has already been the greatest season in Baylor’s program history, and they will appear in a 4th straight bowl game for the first time ever.  They are seeking their first outright conference title since 1980, and their first ever 11-win season.  Texas’ year has been a bit more of a struggle, with early blowout losses to BYU and Ole Miss, and another bad loss to Oklahoma State, their only loss in conference play.  There is speculation coach Mack Brown may be out of a job with a loss, whether by firing or retirement, although I don’t think that’s the case.  Oklahoma State is also the only team to beat Baylor, in a game that was also a blowout.  Baylor won the last meeting in Waco, although that was their first win at home in the series since 1997, and Texas won last year’s high-scoring game, 56-50, in Austin.  Baylor looks like the better team on paper, and having the game at home will help them as well.
Baylor 52, Texas 41.

Another Big Game Guarantee:  #14 Northern Illinois (12-0) vs Bowling Green (9-3)
The Northern Illinois Huskies are 4-point favorites in the MAC Championship Game in Detroit against the Bowling Green Falcons.  The Huskies come in undefeated, and are likely one win away from clinching their 2nd straight BCS at-large bid (even with a win, the bid won’t become official until the BCS standings are released on Sunday night, due to the complicated BCS rules for at-large bids).  This year’s potential bid wouldn’t be as controversial as last year’s when a 12-1 Huskies team that lost to a less than mediocre Iowa team, and lost in that BCS bowl game, the Orange Bowl, to Florida State by 21.  The Huskies lost coach Dave Doeren to NC State, but Rod Carey has picked up right where the team left off, leading them to this year’s perfect season (so far) with wins over an improved Iowa team, Purdue, and all their MAC opponents.  QB Jordan Lynch will likely be a finalist for the Heisman trophy, having a remarkable season as one of the season’s best passers and one of the nation’s best rushers.  Bowling Green has had a good season, but has lost 3 games this year.  One was a blowout to Indiana, as well as close losses to Mississippi State and Toledo.  While Bowling Green has a good résumé, I don’t think they can compete with Northern Illinois’ offensive powerhouse.
Northern Illinois 45, Bowling Green 28.

Upset of the Week:  #2 Ohio State (12-0) vs #10 Michigan State (11-1)
Ohio State moved to 2nd in the BCS after Alabama’s loss to Auburn last week, and head into the Big Ten Championship Game as a 6-point favorite against Michigan State.  The Buckeyes, however, only defeated Michigan by a point last week when the Wolverines’ late 2-point conversion attempt failed.  Michigan State beat Minnesota, 14-3, to not only finish an undefeated Big Ten regular season, but to defeat each of their conference opponents by double digits.  Also, the Spartans beat that same Michigan team 29-6, and their only loss of the season was back in September to Notre Dame, who is 8-4 but has other quality wins against Arizona State and USC.  Michigan State has the top-ranked defense in the nation, and the top-ranked rushing defense.  Ohio State has the 2nd-ranked rushing offense, as displayed in an offensive annihilation of Michigan.  Then again, they haven’t played a defense anything like this one.  There’s a reason Michigan State’s defensive coordinator, Pat Narduzzi, is being mentioned as a potential head coaching candidate at a couple of schools who are either looking for a coach or could be soon.  I expect him to lead his defense to a containment of the Buckeyes.
Michigan State 21, Ohio State 17.

Closer Than The Experts Think:  #1 Florida State (12-0) vs #20 Duke (10-2)
Florida State is the #1 team in the nation for the first time since 2000, and comes into this ACC Championship Game in clear control of the national championship destiny.  They play the Duke Blue Devils, who have won the ACC Coastal divisional title for the first time, and can win their first conference title since Steve Spurrier coached the Blue Devils in 1989 (the ACC began division play in 2005).  Even with Florida State’s outstanding season so far, I find it hard to believe Duke is a 29-point underdog in this game.  The Blue Devils have an 8-game winning streak, not too far behind the 13-game streak of the Seminoles (dating back to last year’s Orange Bowl).  While their win over Troy is the only blowout of the streak, the team has been remarkable in that they always find a way to win in the second half.  Then again, the Seminoles haven’t had to play starters in the second half of most of their games, with their closest game being a 48-34 win against Boston College on September 28.  That game marks the last time the Seminoles trailed in a game, covering a streak of nearly 512 minutes of football since in which they’ve had the lead or been tied (usually 0-0) for every second of action.  Now they don’t even have the distraction of the Jameis Winston investigation, as the ‘Noles QB was not charged in the While Duke has a good football team, they shouldn’t be able to match up with the Seminoles, but I do believe the game will be a little closer than the spread would indicate.
Florida State 38, Duke 17.

Bonus: NFL Pick:  Carolina Panthers (9-3) at New Orleans Saints (9-3)
The Panthers have the NFL’s longest active winning streak, at 8 games, coming into play Sunday night at the Superdome, but they are 3-point underdogs.  That’s because the Saints have a 6-game home winning streak throughout this season, winning most of their home games convincingly.  In fact, coach Sean Payton has a 14-game home winning streak, with the last home loss coming in the 2010 finale  (Payton did not coach during the 2012 season due to a suspension).  The Panthers are now 3rd in ESPN’s NFL Power Rankings, behind just the Seahawks and the Broncos.  The Saints fell from 2nd to 5th in that same ranking after their blowout loss to the Seahawks on Monday night.  Even though the Saints have had a short week, and even though the Panthers are arguably the league’s hottest team, I can’t ignore the Saints unquestionable home-field advantage.
Saints 28, Panthers 24.

College Football Picks for Week 14

Iron Bowl

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Game of the Week:  #1 Alabama (11-0) at #4 Auburn (10-1).  Top-ranked Alabama is an 11-point road favorite in what may be the biggest Iron Bowl of all time.  These teams hate each other, and their annual game is, no doubt, the state’s biggest game of the year, and that’s if both teams are winless.  This year, they are far winless, holding only 1 loss between them.  Both teams have SEC title hopes, and the game will directly decide the winner of the SEC West for the first time since 1994.  Both teams also have a good shot at the national championship.  Alabama has won 3 of the last 4 national titles, and Auburn won the title in 2010.  As for the game itself, Alabama has won 4 out of 5 (Cam Newton was responsible for Auburn’s one win), although Auburn won 6 in a row before that.  This is the first ever Iron Bowl with both teams in the top 5, and is the first top 5 matchup at Jordan-Hare Stadium since Auburn tied Tennessee, 26-26, in 1990.  Auburn has had a remarkable season, coming back from a 3-9 record a year ago.  Alabama, however, has been #1 all year, and is clearly the best team in the nation.  They will prove Saturday they are the best team in the state.  The game’s hype is warranted, but I think AJ McCarron will improve on his 36-2 mark at QB for the Tide.  Alabama 38, Auburn 27.

Big Game Guarantee:  #6 Clemson (10-1) at #10 South Carolina (9-2).  South Carolina is a 5-point favorite at home against their big rivals from the Upstate, the Clemson Tigers.  That 5-point number is both appropriate and ironic, as the Gamecocks are trying to win 5 in a row against the Tigers, a feat the program has never accomplished (the closest they’ve come is winning 5 out of 6 from 1949-1954, and tying the 1950 meeting).  Clemson coach Dabo Swinney realized the importance of breaking Gamecocks’ win streak, saying “We’ve got to win the dang game.”  Clemson’s only loss all year is to #2 Florida State, although that game was not close (then again, nobody has played the Seminoles close).  Clemson will play this game on the road, and their toughest road games so far have been against Syracuse and Maryland, a far cry from playing a top 10 team on the road.  South Carolina has losses to Georgia and Tennessee this season.  While the Georgia loss was understandable, as that game was played in Athens before Georgia was hit with their injury issues, the Tennessee loss is a head-scratcher.  Even still, the Gamecocks sit in the top 10 and still have a chance of playing in the SEC title game.  This may be the biggest matchup ever in this rivalry, as the winner may wind up with a BCS at-large bid, and the loser will eliminate themselves from BCS contention.  I think home-field advantage may be the difference here, with Clemson’s lack of big-game road experience and South Carolina’s good play all year at home.  South Carolina 28, Clemson 27.

Another Big Game Guarantee:  #21 Texas A&M (8-3) at #5 Missouri (10-1).  Missouri is a 4-point favorite at home in one of their biggest games in program history.  Their SEC East clinch scenario is simple:  if they beat Texas A&M, they win the East, and if they lose to the Aggies, South Carolina wins the East.  Missouri is “undefeated in regulation”, as they say, with their only loss coming to South Carolina in double overtime.  Texas A&M, after coming into the season with national title hopes, has close losses to Alabama and Auburn, and a blowout loss last week at LSU.  QB Johnny Manziel may have knocked himself out of Heisman contention with a poor performance last Saturday, but he will still be a big factor in this game.  Missouri QB James Franklin played well last week against Ole Miss in his return from a shoulder injury.  Missouri has home-field advantage, and is 3-1 on the year against ranked opponents, while Texas A&M is 0-3.  Missouri 42, Texas A&M 35.

Formal opening of the new Michigan Stadium, An...

Ohio State vs. Michigan, October 22, 1927, the first game at Michigan Stadium. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Another “Big Game” Guarantee:  #3 Ohio State (11-0) at Michigan(7-4). Michigan has the “Big Game” with Ohio State at home in Ann Arbor this year, but they are 15-point underdogs to the undefeated Buckeyes.  Urban Meyer is 23-0 as Ohio State’s head coach, while Michigan’s Brady Hoke is on the hot seat after losing to Iowa to drop to 7-4, losing 4 out of 6.  Michigan leads the all-time series 58-44-6, but Ohio State has won 8 out of the last 9.  Michigan’s lone win over that span was 2 years ago, in the last meeting in Ann Arbor.  While some of those Buckeye wins have been close, such as the “Game of the Century” in 2006, some of them have also been blowouts.  I think this game will be somewhere in the middle.  Ohio State is lagging behind the other 2 major undefeated teams in the rankings due to a weaker schedule and closer scores, but they continue to win.  Michigan has a lot of talent on their roster, but isn’t playing well.  While I think Michigan will play better, Ohio State will be too much.  Ohio State 35, Michigan 20.

Upset of the Week:  #24 Duke (9-2) at North Carolina (6-5).  When you think of Duke and North Carolina, you think of their battles on the basketball court.  However, Duke is ranked for the first time in the BCS era, and North Carolina has struggled at times this year before getting bowl eligible last week.  Duke is playing for the ACC Coastal division title, after winning 7 straight.  And somehow, the odds makers are favoring North Carolina by 6.  The Heels do have the benefit of a home game, although Duke only has to travel 15 miles from Durham to Chapel Hill.  During Duke’s winning streak, they only have 1 blowout win, winning the rest with big defensive stops, often pulling away late.  The Tar Heels scored 80 last week against Old Dominion, and have a 5-game winning streak of their own.  The Heels have won 21 out of 23 against Duke, including 10 out of 11 in Chapel Hill, although Duke won last year in Durham on touchdown with 13 seconds left.  I still don’t understand how North Carolina is favored here, even if they are playing what is easily their best football of the year.  Duke’s wins haven’t been flashy, but they’ve done what they had to in order to win, and I believe they will again.  This is quite a matchup for the 100th meeting in this rivalry, one that can continue off the basketball floor.  Duke 27, North Carolina 24.

Closer than the Experts Think:  #25 Notre Dame (8-3) at #8 Stanford (9-2).  Stanford is a 14-point favorite over Notre Dame.  Stanford clinched the Pac-12 North last week with a win over Cal and Oregon’s loss to Arizona.  The Cardinal have an impressive list of wins over ranked teams, although they also have losses to Utah and USC.  Notre Dame has played a tough schedule, as usual, with losses to Michigan, Oklahoma, and Pittsburgh.  Stanford has won 3 out of 4 in the series, although Notre Dame won a very controversial game in South Bend a year ago, in overtime.  Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly says he expects the game to come down to inches again this year, even though his team is an underdog.  It is certainly possible Stanford could get caught looking ahead to the Pac-12 Championship game next week, a game that will have a much bigger bearing on their BCS bowl chances.  In the end, I think this game will be closer than the spread, simply because I think there won’t be a whole lot of offense.  Stanford 17, Notre Dame 10.

Bonus:  NFL Pick:  Denver Broncos (9-2) at Kansas City Chiefs (9-2).  Denver is a 5-point favorite, coming off a shocking loss to the New England Patriots in which they blew a 24-point halftime lead and lost in overtime.  Kansas City is coming off a loss of their own, a 41-38 defeat at the hands of the San Diego Chargers.  While both teams are coming off losses, these teams are still playing for first place in the AFC.  When these teams played 2 weeks ago in Denver, the Broncos won 27-17.  The Chiefs do usually play better at home, although that loss to the Chargers was at Arrowhead.  For the Chiefs defense, they will likely have to play the game without sack leaders Justin Houston and Tamba Hali.  That will make the game a little easier for Peyton Manning, which is all the Broncos need.  I still expect the game to close, since it’s in Kansas City, where the Chiefs play well, and both Broncos losses this year have been on the road.  Broncos 24, Chiefs 23.

Bonus:  NFL Pick:  New Orleans Saints (9-2) at Seattle Seahawks (10-1).  The Seahawks are 5 point favorites at home in this game, which is for first place in the NFC.  ESPN is licking their chops at the biggest Monday Night Football game in years.  The Seahawks have a NFL-best 13-game home winning streak, and everyone knows CenturyLink Field may be the toughest venue for opponents to win in all the NFL.  That’s especially true when the Seahawks are one of the league’s 2 or 3 best teams, as they are this year.  The last meeting of these two teams was in the Divisional Round of the 2010-11 playoffs, and is remembered for Marshawn Lynch breaking at least 7 tackles on a touchdown run that put the game out of reach in favor of Seattle.  New Orleans is 3-2 on the road, with losses to the Patriots and the Jets.  In addition, the Saints are just 1-4 against the spread in road games.  Since they’re underdogs here, they will have to beat the spread to have any chance to win, but even that may be problematic.  Seahawks 38, Saints 28.

Happy Thanksgiving; enjoy your families and your football!

Bonus: NFL Picks For Week 11

I was going to include a couple of prominent NFL games at the end of my college football picks for this week, as I’ve done a couple of times for some of the bigger NFL games throughout the year.  However, I ran out of time to write the extra material for these games.  Therefore, here are my picks for the 3 big NFL games of the weekend.

The new NFL logo went into use at the 2008 draft.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Kansas City Chiefs (9-0) at Denver Broncos (8-1).  The Broncos are probably the NFL’s best team, and are favored by 8 at home.  The Chiefs, after a 2-14 record a year ago, are the last undefeated team in the league.  While that fact is absolutely remarkable, considering where the Chiefs were at this time last year, the Chiefs have not beaten a team who currently has a winning record.  The best record of a team they have beaten is 5-5, shared by the Cowboys and Eagles.  In addition, 4 of their 9 games were decided by single digits, with 2 more being decided by exactly 10.  The Broncos have the best offense in the NFL, and are on pace to have one of the best in history, on the strength of 353.4 passing yards per game.  Peyton Manning is having one of his best seasons, even at age 37.  The Broncos have pulled off big win after big win, and have only played 2 close games, against the Cowboys and Chargers, in addition to their loss to the Colts.  The key matchup will be between that Broncos passing attack I mentioned and the Chiefs secondary, which ranks 6th in the NFL.  This is the game of the year, at least so far, in the NFL, and one of the best home crowds in the NFL will be in it, for sure.  Broncos 38, Chiefs 28.

New England Patriots (7-2) at Carolina Panthers (6-3).  The Panthers, playing their first Monday Night Football home game since 2008, are 2 point favorites.  Carolina is coming off of a big road win against the defending NFC Champions, the San Francisco 49ers, and sit a game back of the Saints in the NFC South.  They also hold the first NFC Wild Card spot, and would be the NFC’s 5th seed if the playoffs started today.  That’s not bad for a team that hasn’t had a winning record in 5 years.  The Patriots, on the other hand, haven’t had a losing record in 13 years, and that streak is likely to continue this year, as they sit at 7-2, with a comfortable lead in the AFC East.  They are coming off a bye, and in the game before the bye scored the most points ever scored against the Steelers, and also gained the most yards ever gained against them.  While the Patriots are known for their Tom Brady-led offense, the Panthers are very quietly posting a solid year defensively, ranking 2nd in rushing defense, and 5th in passing defense.  New England will be traveling into a fan base that is hungry, and will likely make some noise for the biggest Panthers home game since the 2008-09 NFL Playoffs.  Panthers 24, Patriots 20.

San Francisco 49ers (6-3) at New Orleans Saints (7-2).  The Saints, who are undefeated at home, are hosting this matchup of NFC playoff contenders, and is favored by 4.  The 49ers opened the year with an impressive win over the Green Bay Packers, before consecutive losses to the Seahawks and Colts.  After that, they won 5 straight games, a streak that ended last week with a 10-9 loss to the Panthers at home.  While the 49ers record isn’t bad, if you take out the Packers win the best team they’ve beaten is the Cardinals.  The Saints began the year 5-0, but are 2-2 in their last 4 games.  Last week, however, they defeated the Dallas Cowboys convincingly, 49-17, in a game in which they had an astounding 40 first downs.  This will be a game of matchups.  The Saints passing offense and the 49ers secondary are both among the best in the league.  The 49ers rushing offense is clearly their strength, as they rank 4th in rushing and 32nd (last) in passing, and will be facing a Saints rushing defense that ranks 23rd in the league.  While I think the 49ers will have a lot of yards on the ground in the contest, I expect the Saints home-field advantage to continue, as Drew Brees continues to excel.  Saints 35, 49ers 30.